the very best city in America. And it's just getting better and better.
The University of Chicago paid me with scholarships and fellowships to get my social work degree and so G'ma and I took off in Annabelle, my 1967 aqua Chevy Impala, for the mid-west. We drove through Ohio and Indiana and marvelled at the flat expanses of farmland and the friendliness of the inhabitants. We couldn't find the University and were appalled when the police officer told us we were right in the middle of it. I couldn't possibly live there --- it was just too scary. Dark, foreboding buildings and gangs of ruffians on the street corners were quite a change from Ithaca and the waterfall at the end of my block. I'd never locked a door in 4 years of college; now I was looking at 2 sets of security locks before I reached the elevator. We found me a studio at 53rd and Dorchester, a quick bike ride from my classes, and I protected myself with a whistle in my hand and Grandpaw's billy-club under the front seat of my car. I learned quickly - don't go home alone, park under a street lamp, chew grass so you can throw up if you are tackled by a nefarious stranger - and I became city-savvy and arrived at a certain level of comfort. Moving to the north side the following year helped a lot; though my neighborhood wasn't gentrified, the bad guys kept to the south side of Armitage and I was safe as long as I respected their boundaries.
Mayors came and went - Michael Bilandic and his inability to plow the streets during the blizzards of 1978, Jane Byrne moving into Cabrini Green to show the residents of the projects that she really did care, Harold Washington dying at his desk (wearing ladies undergarments) - and the city slogged along. We lived in Lincoln Park and Buena Park, in high rises and a greystone 3-flat and a single family house on a corner lot and we never stopped feeling like pioneers. We were committed to city living, but it wasn't always easy. And the city didn't do much to make it easier. Waiting for the bus was interminable, potholes wreaked havoc with our tires, and the school system ...... don't get me started.
Still, we loved it. The lakefront, concerts in Grant Park, the ethnic neighborhoods with their foods and fashions, 5 movie theatres within 10 minutes of every place we lived - there was no reason to leave. Then TBG got the offer he couldn't refuse and we were gone in a flash.
Now the Little Cuter and our SIR are making a home there, and that's only one part of what made it so wonderful last week. Richie Daley is 10 years older than I am, but he's still "Mayor Daley's son" and a kid to me. But the kid is doing a great job. Flowers adorn the median strips of the city's boulevards, and not just the ones in the upscale areas, either. Chain link fences are forbidden. The museum campus surrounding the Aquarium and the Planetarium and the Field Museum has morphed into a landscaped pedestrian paradise and has spawned a residential neighborhood on its western flank.
A safe residential neighborhood in the South Loop? When G'ma and I drove from Hyde Park to the north side in 1973 we came straight up State Street. The hotel doorman, upon hearing the route we'd taken, expressed his amazement that we had arrived alive. And now there's new construction - expensive new construction - right there.
There's a real restaurant at Oak Street beach, and acres of volleyball poles set in the sand at Fullerton and between the two are palm trees. Yes, palm trees in Chicago. Rooftop gardens as a means of energy conservation and pollution control was less surprising to me than the palm trees. Urbs in Horto is a city motto that is taken seriously.
Business was slow in the stores I ambled through, and the restaurants were less crowded than I'd imagined they'd be, but there was a vibrant energy that made up for that evidence of the economy's ailments. People were smiling at one another. The loud teenagers on the bus had the grace to look abashed when the grown-ups frowned. There was no trash on the streets and not much graffitti on the walls. Garbage cans are paired with recycling containers. Construction continues on the Ritz Carlton's hotel/condo project on North Michigan Avenue, just up the street from the (surprisingly not that ugly) Trump Tower.
Taxes are high but the living is grand.
Tucson is wonderful, but I'm feeling a pull.
Can I go home again?